Latvia (Riga) – September 2016
Booked through Wizz Air direct
W6-2510 1850 Doncaster – Riga
Booked through Norwegian direct
D8-2361 1045 Warsaw – Gatwick
Riga – Hotel Rixwell Irina – 15 minutes from the airport by road and only across the road from Riga station. Staff spoke good English at reception. The room wasn’t big and had just enough room for the two single beds it had in it and the cabinets/desk along the wall. With the window closed it wasn’t so cold and despite their dormitory style appearance the beds were comfortable, even with the very small pillow provided. WiFi was free and breakfast was included in the room rate and was served up to 11am the following morning.
All purchased through respective railway websites in advance and printed at home, with local tickets bought at stations when required. Accounts need to be set up for Belarus & Ukraine but they’re very easy to use once done.
Latvia – http://www.ldz.lv/en
Tuesday 27th September 2016 (The journey to Riga)
From being dropped just inside the confines of Doncaster Airport’s car park to having bangers and mash in front of me, airside at Wetherspoon’s, took a mere 15 minutes; and it’s a fair walk across that car park! Last time it had taken twice that just to get through security, which this time didn’t have single person in line at all; it was a breeze.
My Wizz Air flight to Riga, departing at 1850, is the first plane out of the evening so it could explain the lack of people? Surprisingly the plane landed on time coming in and was more or less to time departing. As with all Wizz Air flights I’ve ever done it was like travelling in cattle class with the amount of noise and disrespect those with children had for others around them; one guy was even bouncing his kid up and down on the fold down tray in front of him! I’d initially been sat next to them but luckily there was enough room to spread out a little and my iPod drowned out most of the background noise for the whole journey.
We were on the ground 10’ early at 2310 and as I was at the back I was among the first off the plane and to immigration. Once through I was pleased to find a taxi driver holding up a sign with both my name and that of the hotel I was staying at. I’d only arranged the taxi at the last minute earlier that day, while I was reminding the hotel that I wouldn’t arrive until after midnight. The cost was €17 and was added to my hotel bill when I arrived. There were plenty of other taxis outside the airport arrivals hall so there wouldn’t have been an issue getting to the city centre.
The journey to the Hotel Rixwell Irina took 15 minutes on empty roads. The girl at the reception desk spoke good English so check-in was no issue and having paid my bill in full I headed up to my 4th floor room, via the stairs. When I got to my room door there was nowhere to put the key-card to access it so I ended up back downstairs and was apologetically handed a key for the door instead. I was soon back down though as I couldn’t close the window in the room and the main light didn’t work and I had to use the bathroom light just to see where I was going.
At the third time of asking I was accompanied by the girl from reception, who had a bunch of keys with her. One thankfully got the window lock to open so that the window could be closed properly. Try as she might to get the main light working though, it was a dead duck. One of the small side lights worked though so I was happy enough and 20 minutes after first attempting to get into my room I was finally settled.
The room wasn’t big and had just enough room for the two single beds it had in it and the cabinets/desk along the wall. With the window closed it wasn’t so cold and despite their dormitory style appearance the beds were comfortable, even with the very small pillow provided. WiFi was free and breakfast was included in the room rate and was served up to 11am the following morning. I was ready for bed when I got into it!
Wednesday 28th September 2016 (A day in Riga before heading to Belarus overnight)
I’d been a little apprehensive when setting off on this trip as I had no Belarussian currency or Ukrainian currency and had been expecting it to be a bit of a faff having to get on arrival into each country; the added bonus of doing that of course is the fact that you can’t but anything until you have it! Imagine my surprise when as I was exiting the station I noticed a money exchange place and it listed by Belarussian BYN and Ukrainian UAH. Stupidly I’d thought that the Belarussian currency was a closed one and that it couldn’t be bought outside of Belarus; I was wrong and when I exited the station I was in possession of both Belarussian and Ukrainian currency and that was something else knocked off the list of things to do on arrival into countries.
Back at the Rixwell Irina the breakfast room was empty so I sat in it with a cuppa while contemplating what to do with the 7 hours I had to spare until my 1730 departure to Krustpils. My mind was soon made up when I found a Riga walking guide in the brochure I’d got from reception. It basically took in all the sights of the old town in one hit and guided you to them in a sensible manner. First though, as check-out wasn’t until 1200, I had an appointment with the bed in my room for an hour or so!
I checked out at 1200 on the dot and the hotel were happy to keep my big bag for me. I was asked to leave it with the other bags around the side of reception in the hallway; it wasn’t under lock & key and anyone had access to it but it was still there when I got back and there were even more bags there then.
The walk from the Rixwell Irina to the old town is about ½ a mile and took about 10 minutes. My old town walking guide told me to start at the House of Blackheads, so that’s where I started. As with all written directions its quite hard to follow them if not familiar with the surroundings and couple that to the crappy attached map, I needed a little help with navigation from ME Maps; but with all three for help I managed to follow most of it and ended up at Riga Castle as the walk intended. The whole walk only took about an hour and included sights such as St Peter’s Church, Riga Cathedral, Pulvera (Gunpowder) Tower and of course Riga Castle, which isn’t much of a castle at all at the bottom end of the old town. The whole walk was a nice stretch of the legs and Riga’s old town is definitely worth spending time in, even if only to spot the buildings that reach for the skies with their domes or spires; there are plenty of them.
I was ready for something to eat and had initially been heading for TGI Friday’s when I came across Charlie Pizza, which had the biggest pizza menu I’d ever seen. The staff spoke English and had to give me more time to finish reading the extensive menu. My spaghetti bolognaises came with a twist of chorizo, was very tasty and the cheese stuffed pizza bread as a side topped it off nicely with the whole meal, including a drink, coming to just €11.20.
Unfortunately, it had started to rain while I’d been enjoying my meal. Luckily clean boxers were on hand in my bag, that was thankfully still where I’d left it! By the time I left the hotel I only had 2 hours before departure of train 2/38 1730 Riga – Moscow/St Petersburg and having got some snacks for the rest of the day I waited it out in the station confines watching Riga pass by.
It had got colder and the rain was heavier by the time the stock was backed into track 1. My coach 13 was in the middle of the load 14 rake. By the time I’d got a photo in the rain and walked back to coach 13 everyone previously queuing had boarded. Tickets don’t seem to make much difference and I only had to show my passport to board the train and there wasn’t another ticket check once on board. I had a bay to myself at the back of the coach and with Krustpils being the first stop I was left to my own devices. As coaches are used for both sitting and as two-tier sleeping berths there are two different numbering systems, the top one is for when used as sleeping berths and the bottom ones for when being used as a seating only coach. I learnt this the hard way but there was no harm done.
I’d like to say the 2h40m fester went quickly but it didn’t. The rain did eventually stop though, just in time for my train to Minsk arriving. There must have been about 15 freights pass through in the time I was there, heading in either direction. When I saw the road come off at least I knew which platform to stand on and when train 88 2020 Riga – Minsk came to a stand I was the only person to board at Krustpils and nobody alighted; it had been an interesting fester.
On board, I now used the top set of seat numbers, on the Belarussian stock, to find my berth 45, which was a lower side berth. Immediately after departure I was given a Latvian exit slip to fill in and a Belarussian entry & exit slip, both of which were attached. In the main compo areas luggage can be stored under the seats as they lift up, in the side berths though stuff has to be pushed under the seats as they don’t lift up. The table folded down easily enough to make the bed and I was pointed to mattresses and blankets, which were neatly stowed on the luggage racks up above. Bedded was handed out and a very decent bed was soon laid out, which included a nice soft pillow. I couldn’t get to sleep though as I was a little apprehensive about the Belarussian boarder grip and just dozed until I heard our TEP being detached and when I felt the bump of the replacement BCh engine backing on I went to investigate. It was 2315, we were at Daugavpils and a Belorussian loco in all its red splendor was now in charge of the train.
The Latvian border control came at Indra and was quite straightforward, with my passport being briefly scanned before being handed back; I was even wished a good trip. An hour after departure we were at Bihosava and the Belarussian border control commenced. Most people on the train were Belarussian’s travelling home but there were some Latvians also. Dealing with my passport took longer than anyone else’s but I wasn’t asked a single question during the time it was in the boarder control guard’s hands. It was just stamped and handed back to me after he’d processed it, long with my exit card. Afterwards my bag was halfheartedly searched, along with a few others in the coach; whether that was just to show they weren’t singling me out or not I don’t know. Now legally in Belarus I could relax a little and just before the border staff got off the train one reminded me that I needed to register when I got to my hotel in Vitebsk. I then managed to drop off to sleep virtually straight away.
Photos from my afternoon in Riga: